By Liam Sample
The SUNY Plattsburgh women’s ice hockey team was lifted to the NCAA Division III National semifinals by a heroic overtime goal from graduate student Annie Katonka against the No. 9 ranked Colby College mules March 12 at Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena.
In the thrilling quarter-final match, Plattsburgh squeezed out a 3-2 victory over its opponent to appear in their ninth-straight semifinals. Colby, in its first national playoff appearance, made an excellent effort and forced overtime.
The mules were one of Division III’s premier defensive teams, only allowing an average of 1.2 goals per game coming into this one so it slowed down the Cardinal’s high powered offense, which averages 5.7 goals per game scored.
Colby College qualified as one of the three “at-large” bids for the playoffs, finishing its season with a 16-6-1 record. It was second overall in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) standings, only behind the No.1 team in the country, the Middlebury Panthers.
This program has been going upward in recent years. In 2016-2017, the team won a pitiful two games. In only five years, they have gone from the bottom to close to the top of Division III hockey.
Plattsburgh’s record is now 25-2-1, extending their winning streak to nine, and unbeaten streak to 20. After a 4-3 overtime win over Cortland in the North Eastern Women’s Hockey League Championship March 5, they persevered to win this one in extra time. They have won five of the last six national championships and enter the final four as reigning champions.
After a defensive start to the game from both sides, the Cardinals cashed in first. Colby’s first year forward Lily Wisniewski controlled the puck in her zone, but fell as she attempted to make a pass. Both teams fought for the loose puck until junior forward Ivy Boric passed it to Katonka on the far boards, where she tried a centering pass. The puck bounced off of two different players and found its way to Boric’s stick, who fired it into the net at the 14:01 mark of the period.
Initially, it appeared Boric’s shot found its way in on its own, but it turned out Katonka got a piece of it. This gave her credit for the goal and Boric for the primary assist, which was her sole point of the night and 44th of the season for third highest on the team.
At the end of the period, Plattsburgh nearly extended their lead. Senior Nicole Unsworth, who scored the game winner against Cortland, found the puck in her own zone with plentiful space in front of her. After taking it up the near side and to the front of the net, her shot was saved. She nearly scored on the rebound, but was robbed by diving senior goaltender, Nina Prünster.
Prünstee made multiple saves like this one to keep her team in the game, recording a season high 47 saves while allowing three. She finished her regular season with a 1.08 goals allowed average, the lowest of her collegiate career.
On the other side of the ice, junior Chloe Beaubien made the start for the Cardinals. She stopped 28 and allowed two, moving to a perfect 12-0-0 record this season.
In the second period, Plattsburgh began to show its offensive power, tallying 20 shots compared to Colby’s seven. They were finally able to break Prünster just after the 11 minute mark. When set up in the offensive zone, first year forward Lily Stumm sent a pass to the point for junior Kendall Wasik. Wasik took a long, low wrist shot that senior Sara Krauseneck tipped into the net to put her team up 2-0. This was her 21st of the season and fifth game straight with a goal.
While the Mules were feeling the offensive pressure, they found a way to respond. On the power play with under two minutes left in the period, first year defender Anna Staton passed the puck to sophomore forward Meg Rittenhouse, who took a slap shot from the high slot into the top corner of the net to cut the lead in half. This puts her tied for the most goals on the team with 12.
In the third, Colby began to ramp it up and eventually tied the game. With 12:21 remaining, the Mules dumped the puck behind the net. Rittenhouse sent a beautiful pass to senior forward Lexi Cafiero at the doorstep, who put it on net. The puck trickled past Beaubien to make the score even. This goal also tied Cafiero with Rittenhouse for the team lead in goals.
The game stayed back and forth for the rest of the third, Making overtime necessary. This was both teams’ second straight overtime game. Back March 5, Colby lost to Amherst 2-1 in extra time during the NESCAC semifinals.
A little over three minutes into overtime, Katonka made a steal in the offensive end near the bench. With a defender in her path toward the net, she made a textbook toe drag to leave just her and the goalie. She skated horizontally in front of the crease, cutting back to her forehand to leave the net wide open. After diving to tuck it home to complete a highlight reel goal, she struck a “star” pose while lying faceup on the ice before being swarmed by her teammates. This goal was featured on Sportscenter Top Ten that evening.
This was Katonka’s Division III leading 34th goal of the season and 57th point, which is second highest in the country.
“We controlled the game for the most part, so it was awesome to come out with the win [it] was such a big game and Annie [Katonka] showed up big for the team in overtime..” graduate student Kaitlin Drew-Mead said .
Plattsburgh controlled the shot count, leading 50 to 30.
The team travels to Middlebury for this year’s national semi-finals and finals. They take on the No. 6 Gustavus Adolphus College March 18 at 3 p.m. in their ninth-straight semifinal appearance.
Gustavus Adolphus is 24-3-2 this season and upset the No. 3 University of Wisconsin River Falls 5-3 in the quarter final round. This team is strong in all aspects of hockey, allowing an average of only 1.1 goals per game while scoring an average four goals per game. They pose a tough matchup for the Cardinals, who attempt to defend their title on the road. However later on March 18 the Cardinals would lose 1-5 to Gustavus College. The Cardinals woulld then compete agienst Elmira College where they would win 3-2 and would place third in the NCAA tournement.